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Joe Supervielle:

On this episode of Voices in Local Government, we speak with Odie Donald about three ways to improve citizen engagement. Then check in with ICMA Mountain Plains, Vice President and City Manager of Buda, Texas, Kenneth Williams ahead of regionals. You can find the full schedule and registration information at regionals.icma.org.

Joe Supervielle:

Welcome to Voices in Local Government in ICMA Podcast. My name is Joe Supervielle and joining us today to talk about citizen engagement is Mr. Odie Donald II. Administrator of Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia. Thanks for joining today, sir.

Odie Donald:

Thank you for having me excited to join.

Joe Supervielle:

First, I have to ask Augusta, Georgia people know it for the Masters. Do you get hit up for tickets? Is that a tourist destination?

Odie Donald:

Good.

Joe Supervielle:

How many people funnel in there in early April, and you got to accommodate them in your town? How does that go?

Odie Donald:

Oh, it's unbelievable. So, the Masters is... I mean I didn't really understand the impact of the Masters not just nationally but globally. It is maybe the biggest deal in the Southeast United States even though we don't talk about it that much. And do I get hit up for tickets? My goodness. I thought I was a pretty popular guy before I came to Augusta, but it's unbelievable. Now phones start ringing email addresses. It's definitely a big demand.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah. Well, we might have to talk about that more later myself. Especially when it's cold, people are looking forward to that warmer weather and the flowers blooming and everything.

Odie Donald:

Yeah.

Joe Supervielle:

It's a beautiful part of the country. So, a little bit more on Augusta-Richmond. Just give us a quick background on your role there as administrator, the population, employee number just for the audience to kind of understand how it goes there.

Odie Donald:

Very large and robust government. We are a billion-dollar government, 3000 employees, provide services to both the city and the county. One of the few consolidated governments in our state and in the country. We sit on a body of water and manage the Savannah River as well as the Savannah Lock and Dam. Big tourist destination not just because of the Masters but we've got the James Brown Arena, which we actually have a new one coming forward on referendum. We are two hours from the world's busiest airport in Atlanta.

Joe Supervielle:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Odie Donald:

But we actually have two airports. One regional that are growing and providing great service close to Columbus. I mean I'm sorry. Columbia, South Carolina, the state’s capital there, couple of hours to Charlotte, Savannah. So, we are a hub city here in the state of Georgia. And I would say the greatest economic development opportunity in our state. If not maybe the Southeast.

Joe Supervielle:

Oh, wow. Okay. So just an engagement as today's topic. What got you interested in this earlier in your career? Just your personal experience and also kind of bigger picture. Why is this so important?

Odie Donald:

Yeah, I have a pretty interesting story and I think it kind of leads everything that I do former athlete. And I think I have a little bit of success played internationally, got a couple of looks here in the States and did fairly well. Thought I was really intelligent and put all of my money away while I was still playing due to some injuries and couldn't access it until I was much older. So, I had challenges with receiving government services for sporadic homelessness and not being able to access employment and things of that nature. I was trying to access services in Fulton County in Atlanta, Georgia which is the state's largest county. And it was a mess. I mean it was almost impossible to do so. A gentleman that I had worked for during an internship while I was at Georgia State University... Just so happens to be the greatest university in these United States.

Odie Donald:

But while I was there, he came and visited with me and asked me to kind of help develop a plan on how folks could access those services. And we actually utilized that at the county where everything was an open door. That was kind of our foray there. And that was my entry in the local government. And since that time, I mean literally from the mail room to the board room, I've had just about every position. I've been administrative personnel. Served as an administrative personnel person. I've had roles in the mail room, I've had case management and customer service, I've done program management, been the executive director of a few agencies, one of the highest-ranking officials in economic development, as well as at the technical college system. And now I've had the pleasure to run a few different cities as well as even working in the district of Columbia as kind of their jobs and economic developments are.

Odie Donald:

So, for me, service... Serving in all of the places that I've had the pleasure of working with great leaders, great governors, Mayor Bowser, one of the best mayors in our country. Now I work with of Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr who is coming up on the end of his term. And I've been able to work down in Savannah. Governor Deal maybe one of the greatest governors we've had here in our state. It's just been a great lesson on folks who are real public sector leaders, but I would say public servant leaders who are focused on making sure service delivery is number one. And so, I've had the blessing to hang my hat on those same things.

Joe Supervielle:

So, you've seen it all at every level. The three kinds of stories or examples we're going to get to are open budgeting, expanding 311. And then the really interesting the mayor's walk which you've done in a couple locations.

Odie Donald:

Yeah.

Joe Supervielle:

So, let's start with open budgeting. How did you implement it where you were, why it was needed and then the hard part of actually doing it?

Odie Donald:

So, I'll tell you. A part of it is trying to educate the public but the other piece is making sure we set expectations. When you talk about government services, no one wants their taxes raised. I'll raise my hand too. I don't want my raised either. But we all want improved services every year. We want more, more, more and we would prefer to pay less for those services.

Joe Supervielle:

Of course. Yeah.

Odie Donald:

Now many times let's just be honest, the services just aren't great. And so that's why the public isn't really excited about the services that they're getting. But if you let them know a little bit more about how you allocate funds and why the level of service either is where it is or how you're going to improve it based on your allocations, you can get some really strong support from the community. And in the political roles that I've had, it's important to have that community support. And I think our elected officials really enjoy when the public understands the hard work that they do. And so open budgeting has kind of come out of that. And I think I work with an ordinary group of folks in the district of Columbia as well as in the city of Savannah way back in 2013 when we started this process.

Joe Supervielle:

What would your reply or response be when people raise an eyebrow or kind of skeptical like too much public input on the front end can be tricky because they're asking for things like you said, without wanting to pay for it. They don't really know how it works. Everyone's focused on kind of maybe the immediate gratification. Just fix this, fix this, do that but longer-term planning is often needed. So how do you... What would your reply be or how do you balance?

Odie Donald:

Those are big concerns. Now I've been... I guess we've done it in about five cities now and it's been widely successful everywhere, but I think you always have your naysayers, and they start you off. They set the tone. But I think when you're doing the right things, you're being ethical and you're coming to the people, those are the folks you went over the most. I think some of the most skeptical folks have turned into the biggest champions of government when we really let them in the room. And I think that's important. Listen, controversy is a part of government, and you can't avoid that if you want to be a great leader. And if you want to be a great government, you have to be transparent and you have to deal with the challenges that come with government. But when you tackle those things head on, I mean you have great success. And I think I'm blessed to be an example of that. And so is every city that I've had the honor of working for.

Joe Supervielle:

And transparency you said is the key word. Also is in part of the communication to the public engaging them. Do you make it clear that this isn’t...? It's kind of like feedback. You're not necessarily taking votes or saying just because you ask for this and get X number of signatures or support it's going to happen. How do you...?

Odie Donald:

Well, we don't do that, but I'll tell you we do something close. So, we do everything from surveys to inclusive budgeting at our events and all of the documents that we utilize, all of the feedback that we get, all of the feedback from the surveys. We actually utilize what the public wants. And we use that to help prioritize everything from budget cuts, which new initiatives we say yes to or no to. A billion-dollar government everybody has an idea on how to make it better and there's no department head on God's green earth that doesn't want new money. And so, it's tough to prioritize those things but we start off and I'll just give you a little insight and it'll kind of give you a clearer picture of how we address this. The first thing we do is we start with our elected officials. They are in place to represent those more than 200,000 residents.

Odie Donald:

And so, we get their priorities before we do anything. And so, this year they came up with six big picture priorities. And so out of those priorities, of course the initiatives fall under them. But the big piece is what's our strategic direction. From there we go directly to the people and get the same type of feedback. And what I've seen in each city is that you'd be surprised that when you really pair it down to the most important things whether it is 2, 3, 6, or 8 all those things align with the public and the commission or your council or whoever your elected body is. Now they may have a difference in where they prioritize them but those six always fall into place. And so, connecting the two, then we start to get down into what's most important to them and we allow them to prioritize, and we take that, and we make our decision.

Odie Donald:

So, the best thing about it for somebody like me is, when we come back to the commission and we ask them to pass the budget, well, now you have data from your citizens on what they wanted. You also have their priorities. So, the budget is set in that place. And now we have something where the elected officials, the citizens and your administration are all on the same page. And I think with the budget being your best and most close to the street strategic document, having that piece in place to start your year makes the rest of the days a lot easier.

Joe Supervielle:

Right. So how has this come into play with the American Rescue Plan funding which is kind of its own ballgame there and changing all the time. So hopefully this won't be out of date by the time it publishes. But how does the open budgeting strategy or mindset help with that specific amount of funding and trying to figure out what's available, what you're allowed to spend it on, how to track it?

Odie Donald:

So, I'll tell you. I think I had one of my commissioners tell me I had to be walking around with the rabbit’s foot because the timing of how these things have played out has really been nothing short of lucky and favor. The announcement of the funds came out some time ago, but the interim rule definitely didn't come forward in a timely manner. And right now, we're just getting the final rule. The good thing is it gave us flexibility but the one it did, it allowed us to sustain and really stabilize our coffers. So, we leveraged the American rescue plan to make sure we incentivized our workers who have continued to deliver service to the public despite the pandemic.

Odie Donald:

Augusta's in a wide-open nature. We still have our meetings with the public attending. We do have a requirement that in public buildings that you wear a mask, but I mean other than that, it's almost business as usual with the difference that we do have some safety protocols that we've put into play. And so, despite that, there have been a ton of losses across the government. And so, these addition funds from the rescue plan helped us plug our budget but also add some really innovative things which the public asked for during the open budget process. So, the American rescue plan, our open budget process and just the decision making of our commission have gone hand in hand. It really couldn't be any smoother.

Joe Supervielle:

And just tying it all together on this topic, the citizen engagement. When you're getting the feedback through surveys or otherwise it does connect and hopefully make the citizens especially the ones who are participating feel they're being heard. And it's not just... Some people may or may not have voted for the city administrator. They're actually listening to us to get it done. And that builds up trust over time.

Odie Donald:

Yeah, that has been extremely helpful. I mean I actually had the pleasure of publishing [inaudible 00:14:08] kind of capturing some of these things in the Augusta Chronicle here recently, where we focus on building public trust one day at a time. And so, every decision people aren't going to agree with. But if they know the decisions that you're making and they understand the thought and the alternatives of why you made that decision, they can at least live with it.

Joe Supervielle:

Right.

Odie Donald:

If someone knows you had to make sure you had enough police on the street, you had to trim the library hours by one hour per day. Well, Miss Suzie may not like that, but she understands and wants our community to be safe. "So, listen, we're in the midst of a pandemic. I can deal with that, Mr. Donald." And so those are the types of things that we try to make crystal clear and put all of the information out there for our citizens to make it easy for them to digest and access.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah. So, tell me about expanding 311. I mean we all know the information services but what did you do? How did it improve? Background on that.

Odie Donald:

It's been interesting because I've had an opportunity to address 311 in three different cities and Augusta, we are in the midst of it. So, we get a chance to be creative and really work with our citizens and our commission to do it. So I'll tell you in DC, my role was a little bit different and we have had 311 but what we did was we kind of started a customer service center that was focused on allowing people to do everything from accessing their unemployment benefits, file complaints about labor law enforcement or lack thereof as well as access everything from registering, from job fairs and connecting with career advisors to get access to employment. I mean very robust system that was really just focused on one customer. And I think that was the entry into it.

Odie Donald:

And we ended up connecting to our 311 system. So now not only can you call to complain about a pothole, but you could also register your grandchild for the nation's largest summer youth employment program on one call in under three minutes. That's a really big and important endeavor. And that's for that community. And I think that's the piece about 311 that I think is really important is that the tool is kind of a static but how you implement and utilize it is what's important. And the next community I went to which was the city of South Fulton, but we were a startup city. We didn't exist. I started on day one. I think we had 19 employees and within my fourth month on the job, we were over 600. And so having to explain that explosive growth allows people who may have had building permits with the county to now come to the city, folks having access to new street paving and trying to figure out the schedule and maybe not understand what's online, connecting the dots.

Odie Donald:

We created a citizen's response center that was not just 311 but it was also our mobile app. And so again, that city needed that while DC was a little bit different. Augusta, an entirely different animal. Where we've got folks who are depending on 311 to really, they make sure they connect with the government, but our quality of response back has been lacking. And so, we want to make sure that when folks call and complain about a pothole on fifth street, that they don't have to wait a year and a half to figure out why it's not being filled. We want to make sure that they complain or provide insight, make a request and they get responses in almost real time. And they're able to see connect with government and measure our effectiveness. And so, the goals are different in each place but 311 is really your best customer service tool.

Joe Supervielle:

So, what kind of technology or even additional staff is needed to make these kind of transformations or improvements to this kind of system because it's not just a matter of wanting to do it. You have to have the infrastructure or technology or innovation to do it.

Odie Donald:

Yeah, I think that's a great point. So, we kind of let the... I say I let the citizen kind of give some input in our commission and then we make those decisions in that way. So, in the district, we stood up an entire center from scratch that was outside of 311 and then we connected it to our 311 center. In South Fulton we... And there we didn't necessarily add a mobile app or anything of that nature. In South Fulton. We used the same format where we had a citizen's response center that was 311 and connected to all the other services but we utilized the SeeClickFix app which I think is one of the best in the country. As a matter of fact, I think we ended up being rated the number two mid side city for public engagement and responsiveness. Here in Augusta, we're doing the same thing.

Odie Donald:

We now have SeeClickFix. We'll be officially rolling it out in '22 once we make the adjustment for 311 but our response center in a place that's double the size of the city of South Fulton is actually not 24 hours a day. And so, we're connecting some of our customer service efforts and call centers at our utilities department with 311 and then adding some management support. And from there, we'll be able to launch a 24/7 center that's connected to our SeeClickFix Augusta app. So, we'll have the same capabilities and be competitive with really anyone in the country. Not just Atlanta but LA, New York, DC and anywhere else.

Joe Supervielle:

Were there challenges or unexpected obstacles in DC or Fulton that you learned from and are trying to kind of not avoid but just know how to overcome them a little bit more in Augusta? Just for the audience listening. They might think, "Hey, we've tried this too, but this isn't working." Or that's stalled out.

Odie Donald:

Yeah, I think one thing is there's... The first thing is you always need to start with the plan. So, we'll do an assessment, a quick assessment that we'll launch of our current 311 and have a third party analyze what we want to add to make sure that we're adding the efficiencies but not losing our productivity. I think having a third party come in and assess one, validates the work which are elected officials and your public and gives you a clear pathway. I think the other piece is really not being afraid to get input and find out what the warts are. I think that was one of the challenges when we were in the city of South Fulton. The city started off really rocky. And so, because of that, I think we were always trying to get ahead of some of those challenges instead of taking the lumps and growing from them.

Odie Donald:

And I think our citizen's response center allowed us to see where all of the deficiencies were in our service delivery. And by the time we had launched it and really implemented our plan again like I said, we were rated one of the two cities in our class for service delivery and citizen engagement. And so really not being afraid to take those lumps, being very open and transparent about it but also giving people a say in the assessment is very important. And the other areas that I don't think are easy to overcome from city to city is funding.

Odie Donald:

I mean if you need to add one or two positions at a time when your coffers are being swept by lack of sales tax revenues, folks aren't as easily able to pay their property taxes and all of the other revenues. It's just difficult times. And so, the American Rescue Plan is a big help in that but also, we have to think about just better customer service and better productivity actually help us become more efficient and make our cost of services a little cheaper. And so, I'm lucky to have the experience and seeing those results in the bottom line but not everyone can always see that.

Joe Supervielle:

And that's where it can tie back into the open budgeting where...

Odie Donald:

[inaudible 00:22:38].

Joe Supervielle:

... the average citizen might... They want a better response from 311 but they don't even necessarily think to put that in their comments. But if it's there in the budget for everyone to see and realize, "Oh, they are spending money on this."

Odie Donald:

That's right. We've also done that I think is helpful is being a part of ICMA, the NFBPAs, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators and other organizations like that. We present these things at conferences, share our case studies on our websites and things of that in the nature and start our city administrator and managers groups which also help to kind of share these tools within the industry as well.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, of course. That's why we're here. “We” being ICMA. So next thing I wanted to ask you about was the mayor's walk. When you first told me about it, it was really interesting. My first impression was, "Well, that sounds like something they'd have in a movie or TV show that doesn't happen in real life." Specifically, the mayor walking around trying to get votes. But it was more than the politics of it. And that's where you came in. So, you tell us. You tell the audience what that was all about in DC and Fulton as well and how it went.

Odie Donald:

I'll tell you it's COVID has stopped us from being able to introduce it here in Augusta in the way that I would like. And so, DC is a strong mayor form of government. So, we called it the mayor's walk and I'll give all credit to Mayor Bowser for really taking that ball and running with it. And she is likely the biggest proponent of citizen engagement and really hearing from the people that I've ever seen from an elected official. And so, once a month, we would not only go out and meet people on business corridors and throughout communities, we would address problems in real time. And so, we adopted that in South Fulton and added a little flare to it. So, we would go out once a month to different commercial and residential corridors and every established or I'd say senior manager and administrative appointed official would go out into the community with the mayor and the commissioner from that district. And we would walk the corridors, and if we saw let's say a power line down.

Odie Donald:

Well, we reported at that time and make sure that it got fixed. If there was a crack in the sidewalk that made it difficult to walk on the side of the road or if businesses told us that they were having challenges with code enforcement, maybe being too heavy handed on the enforcement or [inaudible 00:25:21].

Joe Supervielle:

Leave us alone.

Odie Donald:

That's right. Or other folks not understanding that new laws and colds had come onto the books, and they weren't aware that they were out of compliance, or they would soon have to get in compliance. Learning about our work, park and recreation programs. I think we brought on a new Southwest Art Center in Wolf Creek Amphitheater bringing new entertainment to the community, but folks didn't know about it. And so, in addition to the other things that we had done, it allowed us to do that. But more than just connecting with citizens, what we were able to do was really add a new transparency tool. We would go out. And so, if we were walking on Tuesday, all of the activities and all of the issues that we found that day, there's a roll call checkout that says, "Hey, we have to deliver this service, all of these issues in this community, these are them.

Odie Donald:

And we will publish this report within seven days." After we publish the report 30 days later, we actually have a dashboard of which issues we resolve, and it was tied to our citizen's response center. And so, we were able to resolve those issues 96% of the time within that 30-day period. Now of course, if there are things like let's say a dilapidated building or something of that nature, we have to go through the blight process. And so that involves the municipal court system and other things. So that would take a little bit longer but over the course of the first year, 96% of all issues and we're talking about over 9,000 issues that we identified were resolved within 30 days. And so that's a pretty big deal. And I don't believe that we had any lingering issue when we went into the following fiscal year.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, that's impressive. And an example of proactive, local government. Not just waiting for the complaints or the feedback but saying we'll get out there, see everyone, talk to everyone and figure out what the problems are. And as you said, solve it either on the spot or within the month. So that's amazing.

Odie Donald:

Yeah.

Joe Supervielle:

Well, Mr. Donald thanks for your time today. Open budgeting 311, the mayor's walk. I think all these are examples of service delivery and just everyday improvements local government can achieve when citizen engagement is the focus and not just the buzzword but there's actually real thought and real programs behind it. So, we appreciate everything you do and sharing with the audience. We'll have a few links on the ICMA website on those resources you mentioned earlier to help others who are trying to do similar projects where there're working. So, thanks again for your time today.

Odie Donald:

Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.

 

[EPISODE BREAK]

 

[BONUS CONTENT]

Joe Supervielle:

Welcome to City Manager of Buda, Texas and ICMA Mountain Planes regional Vice President, Mr. Kenneth Williams. Thanks for joining us today, sir.

Kenneth Williams:

Thanks for having me, Joe. It's good to be here.

Joe Supervielle:

So, Buda is about a half hour drive south of Austin I believe can you give myself and the audience just some basics kind of on the population, staff size budgets just so they have an understanding of the environment you're working in?

Kenneth Williams:

Yeah. Buda is a great little suburb of Austin. [inaudible 00:28:39] closer than that. We're probably 20 minutes. It’s probably about 20 minutes from the Capitol downtown Austin. We're a population of about 18,000 people. One of the fastest growing cities our size probably in the country. We've grown about 250% over the last...

Joe Supervielle:

Oh, wow.

Kenneth Williams:

... 15 years or so. So, it's been really, really taken off.

Joe Supervielle:

And has the staff kind of kept up with that growth just so can keep with the service delivery and everything for everyone?

Kenneth Williams:

It really has. We're growing staff in proportion with the growth of the city. We're keeping pace with it. We're very fortunate to be here in central Texas where the economy has been strong even during the recession of 2008, '9 the economy was really strong here. So, we were able to add a lot of things, add departments, add people and services to the city of Buda even during a tough recession.

Joe Supervielle:

And do you have an interesting fact about the location or chance to confirm a good myth to spell a negative myth? I know people probably think of barbecue food and cowboy boots and hats. So, what's it really like there? What are the people there like?

Kenneth Williams:

Yeah, it's great little city. We're actually named one of the 35 best cities to live in the country in one pole. So, it's ideal of course Austin's an attractive, larger city to live in for sure. But I guess one of the main things is the pronunciation.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, I think I already screwed it up. Sorry.

Kenneth Williams:

Yeah. And it's pronounced Buda.

Joe Supervielle:

Buda. Okay.

Kenneth Williams:

Like beautiful. Buda.

Joe Supervielle:

Got it.

Kenneth Williams:

So often I open with a discussion with someone and is like, "Pronounce this word." And they often have a challenge in doing that. But it is a great town. We're at the foot of the Texas hill country too. And as I mentioned, we're close to Austin but also only about 45 minutes from San Antonio on [inaudible 00:30:34] 35. So ideal location.

Joe Supervielle:

All right. So ahead of ICMA regionals, we're here to kind of talk about a little bit big picture trends, top concerns, challenges and opportunities managers and their staff will face in 2022. Hopefully COVID aside won't necessarily have to get into that too much but still kind of tying into everything. So, this could be your personal view but also what you've heard from colleagues, the public even directly from the council as they direct you and your staff for some topics to focus on. So, what is on the top of your list going into this year?

Kenneth Williams:

Well, there are several things that we have to be concerned with whether it's local here in Buda or around the country. And you mentioned that we don't want to talk about it much, but COVID has had an impact onto almost everything we do for sure. We've all learned how to respond to that and the impacts of it and particularly on how we do business and how we operate like the private sector. We learn to operate virtually; we learn to change things but there's just certain things as a city you can't do in a virtual environment like provide a police department or provide public works to make sure that the water is running, or the trash is being picked up. So, we had to be able to adjust for that for sure. And going hand in hand courts of that is just budgets and dollars.

Kenneth Williams:

Our revenues were impacted. So, we've had to look at innovative ways to make sure that we have the dollars that we need to provide the revenue for the services that we have. Not only did it impact in Texas, of course sales taxes is a big source of our revenue and property tax. But also, what we call hotel motel tax. So, the travel and tourism industry being impacted has made a big difference for us in dealing with that. And then I think just socially and dealing with issues. But in particular with our city councils. In my long time as a city manager or in local government, social media has been the biggest impact I think as long as I've been in my career.

Kenneth Williams:

It's been the biggest game changer. There was a time when the city staff or the manager was the expert on the subject. Now typically, if someone when comes to you, they know the answer already because they're able to find that information. And many times, they even find things before you do even in the emergency situations or car accident or police department response. They posted it on social media before you have a chance to know about it. So, we've had to adjust, and I think that's going to be a big adjustment going forward is being able to interact, provide, respond to social media and what that means to our constituent.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, that's a tricky subject because it can be a positive, but it comes with some potential downsize as well trying to navigate it correctly and making sure the communication is accurate, up to date and in the case of professionals like yourself, nonpolitical which is not always easy. Are there anything else that colleagues from Mountain Plains, whether it's Texas or the rest of the region have given you feedback or you’re kind of just talking informally about? Is there overlap with what you already said or are there other topics that you hear are top of mind elsewhere?

Kenneth Williams:

Yeah. It's good to interact with the members in the Mountain Plains region. It's been outstanding I had the opportunity to go up to the Oklahoma conference zone to win a conference and interact with those members and likewise, the [inaudible 00:34:29] conference earlier. And basically, they want someone to be able to talk with and be able to listen to them as they have issues. Things that pertain to being a city manager, things that pertain to being a member of ICMA. That's a big part of having that conversation with them. And then once you have that conversation, being able to take some actions to get some things done or rectified or put in place that they find be beneficial as a city manager.

Joe Supervielle:

Right. Being able to talk to each other kind of bounce ideas off each other and maybe figure out what a potential next step is or compare notes on how different people handle different circumstances is always good. So, the Mountain Planes regional for ICMA is in Irving, Texas just outside Dallas, March nine to 11. Believe you'll be there. So again, kind of coming out of COVID first in person event in a while on a regional level for us. So, what are you looking forward to there? Where do you hope to get out of it when you get back in front of more of your peers?

Kenneth Williams:

Well, I know it's the old answer. The one no one really wants to hear but it's the networking opportunity. Networking is one of the major things in being in the profession and being able to talk face to face with your peers. This is an awesome opportunity. It's nothing like having that face-to-face human interaction there and being able to do things whether it's talking business or talking sports or socially interacting whatever it may be, but the networking is fantastic. But also, being able to sit there and gain knowledge. Sit through sessions and have that discussion about key issues or have that discussion about something we've experienced ethically is... While we think we have that answer when we're alone, there's a whole different perspective when people from different parts of the country offer their opinion on it. And it can be really enlightening to all of us.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah. Perspective is a good word. Because again it's not most people showing up there have a good handle on what's going on but just getting different takes from different points of views is what we aim to do here and how ICMA tries to help the membership by just facilitating those conversations. And we're also looking forward to being able to do it in person. Thanks for your time today. Thanks not only for serving on ICMAs board but serving the people there of Buda. Hopefully I got it right that time.

Kenneth Williams:

You got it right.

Joe Supervielle:

And we'll look forward to seeing you and some of your colleagues there at the Mountain Plains regional in Irving, Texas coming up soon. Thank you.

Kenneth Williams:

Thank you, Joe.

Guest Information

Odie Donald II, chief of staff for Mayor Dickens/City of Atlanta and former administrator of Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia | view LinkedIn profile

Kenneth Williams, city manager of Buda, Texas and vice president of Mountain Plains region | view LinkedIn profile

Episode Notes

Odie Donald joins the show to discuss how local government can improve its accessibility and service delivery through three specific examples of citizen engagement.

  1. The advantages and challenges of open budgeting, and how ARPA funding fits in.
  2. How outdated 311 systems can transform into improved services through better technology.
  3. How a “Mayors Walk” can also be an opportunity for non-elected professionals to meet people who are not as engaged in their local government and win them over with real-time fixes.

Bonus Content: Kenneth Williams gives the pulse of ICMA's Mountain Plains region ahead of upcoming 2022 ICMA Regional Conferences (28:10).

Resources:

View more ICMA content and resources on Community Engagement

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